This is the story of one man, a Black man, and the prison that society helped build for his mind, a prison he willingly moved into and has stayed inside for more than 20 years. This is the story of David Edwards from “The Real World Homecoming” on Paramount+.
This is not a good story.
Especially considering this show was a long-awaited chance at redemption, or at least that’s what I’d hoped for, since most of these regular-folks-turned-reality-stars ― before America even knew what reality stars were ― were once just babies. In 1993, they were fresh-faced 20-somethings picked to live in a house and find out what happens when people stop being polite and start acting real. It was the second season of MTV’s “The Real World,” uprooted from New York and newly set in Los Angeles.
To say that the sophomore season crashed and burned and then crashed some more is an understatement. The mashup of roommates couldn’t have been more insane, and the arguments that ensued were much to be expected. Tami was the AIDS prevention counselor who was mildly homophobic. John, the country bumpkin, loved him some Jesus and country music. On the show, they lived with the ever-complaining and always-in-the-middle-of-something Beth. Add to this mix Irene, a deputy sheriff for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and you can imagine the chaos that ensued.
MTV wanted it this way. In the inaugural New York season, things never really got above a loud yell, which by New York standards is just regular talking. For the most part, the New York roommates were friends, and except for a few tiffs about race, there really wasn’t the drama that has come to be the lifeblood of reality TV.
But it didn’t take long for the Los Angeles train to go off the tracks, fast. David, an overly sensitive, sharp-tongued hothead disguised as a comedian trying to break into Hollywood, did little to hide his disdain for his roommates. He beefed with reality TV’s first Karen, Beth (claiming she deserved the pimples on her face because of her attitude). He tried to fight damn near all of his male castmates, and as we later learned, he lied about John asking if he could hang a Confederate flag in his room. The entire season was a powder keg, and it exploded after a night of playful girls-vs.-boys ribbing and pranks, when David took things way too far.
In what can only be called “the blanket incident heard ’round the world,” David pulled a blanket off Tami, who was only wearing a bra and panties. Irene and Beth compared David’s actions to those of a rapist. David said it was all a joke. In the end, David became the first person ever to be kicked off a reality TV show. This moment didn’t just become a huge first for reality TV; it became the start of David’s slow spiral into a real-life drain.
So why wouldn’t MTV want to get the band back together some 28 years later, to capture the true story of seven older people moving back into the same house for a week, to have their lives taped to find out what happens when no one has gone to therapy?
My father called it “making pickles.” In fact, he would ask me all the time how my pickle-making was going. For my dad, once you were an adult, not dealing with real-life issues like trauma, emotional distress and difficult parenting was just like making pickles. During my “I tried to smoke it away” phase, my father used to tell me I was taking a cucumber (my problems) and putting it in a jar of vinegar (weed), hoping it would dissolve. “And all you’re doing is making pickles,” he’d laugh.
The problem never goes away on its own. It just morphs into something that looks like what it was before. But it’s still there.
This was what I thought of as soon as David entered the house and was caught pouring clear liquor into a water bottle. The castmates are concerned about David’s drinking.
David is not. It pretty quickly becomes clear that “the blanket incident” has frozen David emotionally. He’s gone from being overly sensitive to bitter and extremely sensitive, an even more volatile combination. Because it’s not enough to just have these folks back in the house, MTV gives them video messages to spur conversation. Of course they revisit the blanket-pulling, and it goes about as well as you’d expect.
“For me, when I watch that, I still get angry,” Tami says. “Because if I say that I don’t have no clothes on, then nobody should have tried to pull the covers off. People don’t understand that laughter is to try to cover uncomfortableness and awkwardness. And they don’t know what to do. And that’s kind of what was happening in that moment for me, without you guys knowing who I am, what I was dealing with, even while we were shooting this show.”
Tami continues: “Y’all did not see me popping laxatives, y’all did not hear me throwing up. Y’all did not know that I was battling body dysmorphia. Nobody understood why I got my mouth wired was because no matter when I look at myself, I feel like I’m 300 pounds.” She’s referring to a procedure she had done during the 1993 show where she got her mouth wired shut to prevent her from eating.
David can’t hear Tami in her moment of vulnerability. He asks for the uncomfortable clip to play again so he can point to the screen and laugh.
Tami tries again to share her story so David can better understand why this moment remains a trigger for her. She tells him that it took her “a long time to heal from being a fucking bulimic.”
David exclaims that he wouldn’t have wanted to be a part of the show, had he known she had all these issues.
“Now I’m being blamed for mental problems I didn’t even know you had,” he says.
If this were the only incident that happened with David, there would be no need to revisit his time in the house, but David continues to hate everyone besides himself. Or maybe he hates himself and in turn hates everyone else. Who knows. Either way, he beefs with Beth and we all saw that coming. He tells Irene “Fuck you” for claiming in 1993 that she would call the police and cry rape. He throws an orange at Glenn, whom he often refers to as his replacement, since the onetime punk singer did in fact replace him during the 1993 season. If 1993 David was a firecracker, then 2022 David is dynamite.
But things really take a turn for the worse when the cast tries to have a discussion about the importance of Black Lives Matter (of course prompted by the producers of the show). Glenn uses the N-word. Tami, who finds herself as the lone Black person trying to educate her clueless roommates despite David sitting there, checks him. Irene also uses the N-word and Tami checks her, too.
David only chimes in to talk about the role corporations have played in pitting folks against each other. It’s a lackluster attempt at joining the conversation only to say nothing, a fact that Tami tries to talk to David about the next morning. It doesn’t work. Tami explains that she expected more from David, considering the Black Lives Matter movement directly affects Black men. David says he lives his life trying to avoid the heaviness of those conversations. Tami tells him that’s a slave mentality. David says he finds that rich, considering it’s coming from a Black woman wearing a wig. Ouch. David makes another joke about her wig and Tami notes that the joke fell flat, like his entire career. Ouch, again.
A bit more bickering ensues, and Tami appears to let it die. And that’s when David walks behind Tami, talking loudly into the phone, claiming he’s going to start snatching wigs. Tami feels threatened and calls her husband, who comes over to confront David. David learns of this and leaves the show.
And this sums up David’s failed attempt at a redo of his abruptly ended 1993 season. Nothing has changed for David. In fact, it’s gotten worse. For years, it appears that he’s harbored resentment toward his castmates for how his life turned out after the show. He notes that it’s all been bad, including a nasty bike incident that left him with a scar on the side of his head. David is so stuck in his story that he could’ve walked out of the house in 1993 and then turned right around and walked back into the house in 2021. He lacks the empathy and compassion that usually come with getting older and doing the work. He still blames everyone for how his life turned out. He’s utterly unable to receive criticism or process anything.
But to fully understand David in the narrative of reality TV is to understand the role of Black men before him, which is to understand Kevin Powell. Kevin was a mild-mannered, well-read social activist who worked tirelessly to erase the negative stereotype of Black men during his time on the first season of “The Real World.” He looked like an extra out of a Spike Lee casting. After the show, Kevin dealt with his anger issues and violence against both men and women. He has talked openly about his past and what he did to get better, and yes, it included (but was not limited to) therapy.
For David, the Real World isn’t the television show where he lives with strangers; it’s the one where the violence lives inside him. It’s the world that he’s created and can’t handle when someone demands better of him.
David shouldn’t have done the show in 1993, and he shouldn’t have done the show now, as the wounds from his past haven’t healed. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Everyone else is the problem, and for David, the problem doesn’t exist if he keeps running from it. He’s yet to realize that he brings the problem with him wherever he goes.
I don’t know if David has a future as a comedian. I can’t see it. You can’t be lighthearted and fun with this much resentment in your heart. But if he keeps going this way, I’m sure he will be a great pickle maker.